Pasta al Pesto alla Genovese

Pasta with Pesto in the Genovese Style

Pesto is one of those Italian ingredients that has become part of the international pantry, along with balsamic vinegar, pasta, and a few others. Its origins lie deep in the heart of maritime Genova, and it was used as a condiment for one or two shapes of handmade pasta; either the curly little trofie pasta or the long flat ribbons called trenette. In either case, the traditional way of cooking and serving this dish is to cook one-third cubed boiled potatoes, one-third green beans, and one-third pasta, all dressed generously with pesto. Just as with so many of these recipes, there is no definitive formula. Each household, restaurant, and Mama will insist that theirs is the ultimate and only recipe. The recipe given here is my own version and I hope you will feel free to increase or decrease the quantities as you work, tasting and adjusting as you feel. This is necessary, because in my experience no two basil plants are ever quite the same, and it is basil which is the fundamental ingredient in pesto.

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Pesto alla Genovese

  • 2 or 3 or 4 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
  • a pinch of rock salt
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, halved
  • a handful of pine nuts
  • 2 to 6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano, pecorino, or half and half cheese
  • about ¼ cup best quality olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Place the basil, salt, and garlic into a food processor and whiz to a smooth green purée. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle.
  2. Add the pine nuts and cheese and process briefly. Begin to add the oil a little at a time, until you have reached a smooth, creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and use as required.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, return to a boil, and cook until the pasta is al dente. Minutes before the end of cooking add the cooked beans and potatoes to heat them through.
  4. Drain the pasta and vegetables and return to the pan, reserving a little water from the pasta pan. Dress with the pesto, which is slightly diluted with a little of the reserved water from the pasta pan to help it coat all the other ingredients.
  5. Serve immediately. It is not usual to serve extra Parmigiano Reggiano at the table when eating pesto.

To Serve

6 oz fresh green beans, boiled or steamed until tender

6 oz potatoes, peeled, cubed, and boiled or steamed until tender

8 oz Trofie or other type of small curly or narrow ribbon pasta